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Tenants want tighter controls on landlords

By Mwangi Muiruri | March 12th 2020
Residential building at Tassia Estate (PHOTO: File)

The Urban Tenants Association of Kenya (Utak) wants the Rent Restriction Tribunal amended to give renters more power to deal with landlords.

The association also wants land rates that local authorities charge to be subjected to legal control. This, it says, should be done through establishment of a rent and rates regulatory authority to replace the rent tribunal.

Utak argues that such an authority will segment commercial houses by location and size and enforce ceilings on rent and rates to apply.

Secretary General Ephraim Murigo said there are “landlords of impunity” who arbitrarily hike rents and profile tenants on ethnicity, especially during election seasons.

He told Home & Away that his association has filed a memorandum with the Housing ministry seeking a stakeholders’ meeting on the areas that need to be changed to protect tenants.

Mr Murigo said the national and county governments have strategic buildings that they usually let to tenants and should also be held to account.

“In fact, the Government is the worst landlord since it uses its monopoly of violence to evict tenants. We are cognizant of cases where tenants have been evicted illegally by use of police force and in the case of county governments, evictions being conducted by crude askaris,” he said.

The Rent Restriction Tribunal was established by an act of Parliament Cap 296 and became operational in September 1959. It was mandated to effect regulatory measures on increase of rents and deal with disputes between landlord and tenants.

The tribunal is expected to ensure rents that are profitable to the landlord while safeguarding the rights of the tenant to support continued investment in the housing sector.

Utak is pressing for amendments that will impose criminal charges against landlords including a fine of between Sh1 million and Sh5 million and a jail term of up to five years.

Conflict between landlords and tenants is a perennial issue across the country, with most of the blame laid on the former.

Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare Communications Director Joseph Kamuto said landlords have been acting “in total disregard to the provisions of the constitution and other laws.”

He said the ministry has been receiving complaints from aggrieved tenants but its hands are tied since the Rent Restriction Tribunal is under the Ministry of Housing.

“We have county governments also contravening the law where they impose draconian terms on land rates against leases as well as illegally doing so on freehold tenants,” said Mr Kamuto, adding that it is illegal to hike rent by more than 10 per cent in one phase of increment.

He said there are county governments that have since 2014 increased rents and land rates by between 300 and 500 per cent, arguing that the hike should not be above 60 per cent now.

“Landlords are operating with raw impunity where they hike rents anyhow. The law is very clear that this should only be done annually and not at a rate exceeding 10 per cent. And this is only after conspicuous upgrading of the premises is done,” he said.

Mt Kenya Tenants Association Secretary General Josephine Wanyiri told Home & Away that the major undoing for tenants is ignorance about their rights and how arbitration of disputes within the housing sector applies.

“Tenants have not been sensitised that they are not supposed to be evicted at short notice, that the minimum notice should be three months, which should be backed by a court order,” she said.

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